The Montauk Indians

Footnotes to Long Island History

The Montauk Indians


Thomas R. Bayles


            (Material taken from an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Oct. 13, 1895)

            The earliest recorded purchase of land on eastern Long Island from Indians was that of Lion Gardiner in 1639, who was the first English settler in New York State.  He purchased Gardiner’s Island called by the Indians Manchonacke, the land of the dead.  The first record in the town of East Hampton relates this transaction.

            All of the thirteen tribes or groups of Indians on Long Island were subject to the powerful Montauk tribe, and in the purchase of lands by the early settlers from any of the local tribes, the signature of Wyandanch, chief of the Montauks, was required on all deeds.

            In 1658 an agreement was made with the Montauk Indians to secure the pasture on Montauk for seven years to white settlers of East Hampton with the privilege of purchasing the land in case the Indians wanted to sell.  Title was acquired to the portion known as Hither Woods, lying west of Fort Pond in 1660, after the overthrow of the Montauk tribe by their enemy, the Narragansett’s from across the Sound.  Those of the Montauk’s who were not killed or captured in this raid fled to East Hampton where they were sheltered and protected by the settlers.  In 1670 title was acquired to the tract lying between Fort Pond and Great Pond, and in 1686 the remainder was bought, subject to certain Indian reservations and rights.  It was agreed that the Indians should “have right to plant what corn so ever they have occasion to plant from time to time, upon the land as purchased of them by us.”  They also had the right of pasturage of fifty head of cattle, and the right to take whatever wood they needed for fuel and fencing.

            From the first agreements with the Indians in 1658 concerning the privilege of pasturage, until the sale by auction in 1879 of the ten thousand acre tract to Arthur Benson, the peninsula remained an undivided domain used as a common pasturage by the farmers of East Hampton town.

            In 1655 the commissioners at Boston sent military supplies to Easthampton and to the Montauk Indians.  They also stationed an armed vessel in the Sound for the protection of the Indians from the invasions of the Narragansett’s.  It was during a raid by this tribe, made while the marriage ceremonies of the daughter of Wyandanch were going on, that the bride was captured and carried back to the headquarters of the Narragansett’s.  Lion Gardiner, who was a great friend of Wyandanch, afterward rescued her from her captors, and in gratitude for this, Wyandanch gave him a deed for a tract of land which is the present town of Smithtown.

            After 1660, following a disease that attacked the Indians and killed nearly two thirds of them, their number gradually diminished, until by 1900 only a few of this once powerful tribe remained.  In 1845 an estimate of the Indians tribes on eastern Long Island was as follows: Montauk, three families, and the Poosepatucks at Mastic, six families.  About this time David Pharoah and his wife Maria were regarded as king and queen of the Montauk’s.  Steohen Pharoah, a brother of the king, was famous as a walker and thought nothing of walking to New York and back, and frequently walked from Montauk to Easthampton in the morning, cradled three acres of wheat, and walked back home again at night.  Another brother of the last king was Elisha Pharoah who was famous as a basket maker and often made a trip to Easthampton with his huge pile of baskets covering him like a stack of hay.

            The Pharoah families were probably of pure Indian blood and King David died at his home on Shagwanac hills, near Oyster Pond, Montauk in 1878.

            When the Indian claims were all acquired by Mr. Benson about 1885 the few remaining homes of the Indians were wither moved to Easthampton or burned down, with nothing to mark the spot on the slopes of Shagwanac hills, an Indian name meaning “a place on the side of a hill.”

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